Bodybuilders with Insecurity - Separate the Mind from Body

The Scrawny Effect

Bodybuilding is as much Mental as is Physical in Nature

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Now, I know some of you have already started laughing upon reading this title. And why shouldn't you chuckle? We all know at least one guy in the gym, or in the world of bodybuilding, who so completely suffers from distorted self-image that he believes himself to be astonishingly small. The fact that he may be one of the largest humans on the planet is beside the point to a guy suffering from a warped perspective.

While the situation may seem insane enough to laugh at, the sad fact is, the image someone like this holds in his head just doesn't synch up with his physical body, and likely never will. It's like the overweight 14-year-old who loses 40 pounds by the time she turns 17 and still sees herself as chubby, even as she easily zips her size 4 jeans at age 25.

As I was sitting thinking about this issue, I remembered one IFBB pro who was particularly stricken by this affliction. He was one of the biggest men in the sport at the time, yet probably saw himself as a pencil-necked geek who expected to get sand kicked in his face every time he went to the beach. Deep down inside a part of him didn't feel worthy of the size he had worked so hard to put on. I once ran into him after some absence, and he immediately began making excuses for his lack of size and overall small appearance. I was amazed at how hard he was struggling with this imagined weakness. Even after I had reassured him time and again that he looked great, he kept degrading himself. Eventually I had to just walk away.

I've trained amateur and pro bodybuilders for years, and the story is always the same. There isn't one bodybuilder who is content with his current size. Sure, the sport demands that its competitors continue surpassing their best every year, but the problem is more than that. At the root of it, I think, is an issue of people becoming accustomed to whatever new size they've added, and then failing to be satisfied for very long. Of course, most successful people feel a need to continually challenge themselves, but when bettering oneself borders on obsession and necessitates going beyond what is either practical or aesthetic, a much larger issue is at play.

I normally write columns about how to get bigger, but this issue really merits discussion because an airing of it may prevent someone with a great physique from ruining it. The fact is, there are a lot of people in bodybuilding today with great genetics doing relatively well in competition, but who probably shouldn't be involved in the sport.

Sounds odd to say, I realize, but here's my point: To measure up to the standards of competitive bodybuilding these days, adding size is essential. But how many people do you know who can carry that much size and still look good? Not many, right? Flex Wheeler, Chris Cormier and Ronnie Coleman can, and maybe even Jay Cutler, who isn't as aesthetic as the aforementioned athletes but can certainly carry large amounts of size and get away with it. Then you have Shawn Ray, one of the most aesthetic bodybuilders ever, who can't carry an excess of size and, thankfully, doesn't try. Johnny Moya, a good example of aesthetics gone wrong, competed as a very balanced middleweight, then took his body up to 230 just to compete with the big boys and ended up facially unrecognizable. His balance was warped too. Dennis Newman had one of the prettiest bodies in the sport, but in the end he couldn't carry the extra size he needed without losing his aesthetics. He made a sound choice to retire from competition.

Countless more bodybuilders continue to toil in the gym to pack on size that will ultimately obliterate their physique. Who can tell them to quit? No one. Of course, it's their choice, but packing on size just to measure up, or to overcome a "scrawny complex" from adolescence, is stupid. Taking massive amounts of steroids to help that effort, when it's not going to amount to anything that looks good, is also a gross waste of money. Half these guys could be rich today if they hadn't depleted their effort and finances in pursuing a goal that never netted them any-thing but messed-up chemistry.

How can a bodybuilder assess what he is going to look like at 270 pounds when he is tipping the scales at a scant 196 in an amateur light heavyweight class? That's a hard call. I do know this: Once a guy turns pro (although this happens to women too, occasionally), he no longer has any kind of weight requirement to abide by and, therefore, has absolutely no direction in terms of what he should weigh. This dilemma activates that "scrawny complex." Whereas once the guy was at the top of his heavyweight class, now he's at the bottom of the pros in weight and needs to play catch-up ... or so he thinks. He goes into a cold sweat and starts taking whopping amounts of steroids, eats a ton of food, and trains with weights that could injure him - all for the right to say, "I weigh as much as Flex ... or Lee Priest..." or whoever.

Adding more than 10 to 15 pounds per year is a mistake for anyone's physique. Even then, that 10 or 15 pounds has to be measured by whether the athlete is in the exact same kind of shape he was in when he weighed 10 to 15 pounds less. That's another area in which people have no perspective. The almighty goal is to come into a show weighing 10 to 15 pounds more because that's what everyone else is trying to do. The bodybuilder who sets that goal for himself does so because he figures he can't be competitive otherwise. Often the process means a total sacrifice in conditioning. This phenomenon is evidenced by the size of the guts competing today. Men who were winning competitions at a tight, hard, ripped 235 are now placing eighth and ninth at 265 pounds. They look as if they added 30 pounds over the course of a couple of years all right, but the additional weight doesn't appear to be more than maybe 12 pounds of actual muscle.

I believe this problem occurs because people get into bodybuilding before resolving lingering insecurities of their youth. More often than not, you can see bodybuilders who, as kids, were puny and stick-like, or who were a bit shorter than they ought to have been at 10 or 12. They might also happen to have exceptional genetics and be naturals for a sport that demands perfection; however, they were guided more by their fears than by their dreams and goals. Several indicators point to a bodybuilder who suffers from this kind of distorted self-image.

Never wearing anything but sweats to the gym

This guy out and out refuses to bare his body for anyone. He is often seen wearing more than one shirt to add bulk to his frame, and always wears long pants to hide his legs. Even when the weather is blazing hot and everyone's in shorts and tank tops, he's got the long-sleeved shirt and pants on, sweating profusely with every step. There used to be a guy at Gold's/Venice who wore five jackets at a time just to look bigger. I'd say that's a man who doesn't feel particularly good about his progress.

Apologizing to everyone for his lack of size

This is the guy no one wants to be around after five minutes because he is paranoid about any remark you make. If you say the wrong thing to him, you could crush his entire existence and make him feel like committing suicide. He repeatedly asks whether you think he looks small. He can't have friends or intimates because he is carrying on a relationship with his physique and doesn't have room for anyone else.

Whining constantly about how he has to get to the gym because he is losing size by the minute.

This guy is annoying because he will poison a good evening or afternoon with his total monopoly of every conversation. You may have trained hours ago and have long forgotten your workout while having a good time, but he's mentally still at the gym. He can't wait to get back there to check on himself to see if he's lost any quality muscle.

Checking in a mirror every few minutes

I call this guy the "pants dropper." He's always ready to strip down to his underwear and pose in front of the mirror with anyone he thinks he'll look huge next to. He's so worried that his muscle has mysteriously disappeared that he has to whip his pants down and check out his quads for himself so that he can be content for five minutes until the next panic attack occurs. He doesn't just examine his legs. He also pushes his sleeves up, takes off his shirt completely, or rolls up pant legs to flex his diamond-shaped calves.

Asking you to feel how hard he is

Okay now, I don't know about you, but when a guy says that to me, I get nervous. His friends are tired of feeling his muscles and testing out his rock hardness because they probably did it 10 minutes earlier. This guy gets off on the instant gratification from strangers who exclaim, "Wow! That's hard!" Most people just think he's a loser for asking.

Overeating and getting unreasonably fat in the off-season just to stay huge

This is the guy who has convinced himself that gorging his face is what is going to make him rock hard, huge and ripped. Usually the overeating just causes him to gain excessive weight rather than impressive size. This added fat only makes leaning down for competition all the more difficult. He's so paranoid that going two hours between large meals is going to make him lose size that he orders as much food as he can, rationalizing that he needs it to grow.

Taking mostly androgenic steroids just for the water retention

Despite the fact that looking like the Michelin man isn't appealing, the kind of guy who takes the androgenic raids just for the bloat and the pump he sustains in a workout is really headed down the wrong path. Not only are bloat and "androgen sunburn" not attractive, but the acne and hair loss androgens produce are enough to make any normal person go off them immediately. This guy is so desperate for size of any kind that he'll sacrifice the hair, the complexion and the shape of his face under normal circumstances for a hit of "huge."

Muscle dysmorphia, as this condition is called by the psychological community, can destroy a person's life if left untreated. The sufferer can't accomplish much else when he is afflicted by negative or distorted body image and is preoccupied with it 24/7. Many people even pass up suitable or ideal mates because they are too obsessed with adding size and keeping it. They ignore injuries and continue training - actually overtraining -and end up making themselves smaller in the process. That's the vicious circle of muscle dysmorphia.

I've heard a lot of people blame the media for this problem and say that having WWE icons like The Rock and Triple H as role models causes rampant insecurity. I think that's just nonsense. You either suffer from deep-seated insecurities about your body or you don't. No G.I. Joe is going to influence your decision to act like a maniac when you've got yourself together.

Next time you hear a guy moan about how he is "wasting away" or isn't "big enough" despite looking like a house, suggest he get some help and then bow out. After all, he doesn't have much time for you anyway.

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